By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — With less than a week from the party primaries in Florida, U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-District 25, will watch and wait from the sidelines.
In the newly drawn 26th Congressional District stretching from Key West to parts of Miami-Dade County, Rivera will face the winner of a four-way Democratic primary, filled with candidates eager to topple the one-term GOP representative, who has been dogged with ethics investigations since his days in the Florida House.
Gunning for the seat are veteran attorney Joe Garcia, executive consultant Gustavo Marin, businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses and hotel employee Lamar Sternad, who has been accused of being a GOP “ringer” by his primary challengers.
Independent candidate Jose Peixoto also will be running for the seat in November. He did not respond to calls for comment.
“We are confident, but concerned,” Garcia told Florida Watchdog. “Our campaign has been effective, but our opponents have spent a lot of money to attack us.”
“There are only three valid candidates,” explained Marin. “My conclusion is that the choice is still quite uncertain, because, in reality, it is such a huge district. I think I have a chance, although I have the least amount of money.”
Romero Roses said her experience working for the community makes her a strong candidate, especially after having worked with a coalition of parents, neighbors and educators to improve education.
“They’re not looking for another politician. They want a new perspective and a new generation of leaders with experience in creating positive change. That’s what I offer,” Roses told Florida Watchdog.
Rivera’s office did not respond to Florida Watchdog’s requests for an interview.
Michael Hernandez, the Hispanic communications director for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, sees Garcia as the most equipped to defeat Rivera in November, despite his previous loss to him in the 2010 election and his unsuccessful District 25 run against U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in 2008.
“Historically, candidates who begin with high name recognition then have an advantage in the primaries and general elections because voters know who they are,” said Hernandez.
He pointed to Garcia’s appointment to director for the Office of Minority Economic Impact and Diversity of the U.S. Department of Energy, by President Barack Obama, as a significant selling point on the campaign trial.
Sternad, the fourth Democratic primary candidate, has been accused of being a plant or ringer for the Rivera campaign.
“Lamar is not an active member of the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade County. There are rumors that he is a plant candidate for Rivera, which does not surprise me,” said Hernandez.
“Joe Garcia has lost all of his elections,” said Gustavo Marin. “He lost to Mario Diaz-Balart in 2008, even with the help of President Obama and later he lost to Rivera.
“Romero Roses lives 75 minutes from here and (I) do not know why she’s running in this district. I’ve lived in the district for 17 years,” he said.
“The last election was a very aggressive wave against the Democrats, and we did better than any aspiring candidate,” Garcia said in his defense. “Between the momentum in the presidential race for Obama and the past history of Rivera, we’re confident in this race.”
In the summer of 2011, an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement almost led to Rivera’s arrest.
The authorities were preparing a draft of 52 counts of theft, money laundering and conspiracy pertaining to payments accepted from a dog-racing track owner and allegations that he wired campaign funds to his personal accounts, according to the Miami Herald. The state cleared Rivera of all charges in April.
“Our opponent has a rather poor record, which is under investigation by the FBI, IRS and other agencies,” said Garcia.
“I think people are frustrated with Congressman Rivera, not only because of (his) ethical problems, but because (he) has been wrong on the issues,” said Romero Rose. “His opposition to the DREAM Act, along with bipartisan initiatives such as the Violence against Women Act is out of touch with this district.”
“There is a federal investigation that is ongoing,” said Marin. “A congressman who is highly concerned about whether or not he’ll be arrested might distract him a little bit in his job.”
Correction: a previous version of this story had the quote about Joe Garcia’s election history attributed to Gloria Romero Rose.